(Photo: AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool)
The New York Rangers will live to play another day.
With two world-class goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick, this series was bound to become a goalie battle at some point. Quick’s night to shine came with Game 3, but on Wednesday night, the spotlight was on King Henrik. Lundqvist made 40 saves on 41 shots to lead the Rangers to victory and prevent the L.A. Kings from taking the Stanley Cup in four.
“Definitely we didn’t want to see the Cup coming out on our home ice” said Lundqvist. “Just the thought of it made me sick. We wanted to win at home in front of our fans.”
The theme tonight was luck. With a little bit of “puck luck” for the home team, Rangers players and fans alike left Madison Square Garden in significantly higher spirits than they did on Monday night.
The Rangers started off fast and aggressive. Following an early New York power play in the first period, LW Benoit Pouliot tipped in a shot by D John Moore at 7:25, and the Rangers went into the first intermission up 1-0. Pouliot’s goal was the first allowed by Quick in 123 minutes and the first scored on the L.A. goaltender at Madison Square Garden. New York then took a (now infamous) 2-0 lead at 6:27 in the second with a wrist shot by RW Martin St. Louis. Throughout these playoffs, a 2-goal lead has only spelled disaster for any team that isn’t the Kings, and it seemed as if this trend would continue when Kings RW Dustin Brown cut the lead in half two minutes later on a breakaway. The score became 2-1, and viewers everywhere started to feel a certain sense of déjà vu. But the hockey gods were smiling on the Rangers in Game 4, and Brown’s goal would be the last time the puck found the back of either team’s net. For the first time all series, the Rangers found a way to hold onto the lead.
That wasn’t without a few close calls, though:
In the words of Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, “Thank god for soft ice.”
Despite being outshot 41-19, the Rangers found a way to win with a final score of 2-1. And though it wasn’t a perfect game by any standards, Game 4 was a solid team effort for the home team. “For the most part we were all right, but I know that we can be better, and I expect us to be better next game,” said Vigneault. “At this time of the year, it’s only about one thing: it’s about the team.”
“When you play this game, you have to battle. But you have to rely on your teammates, and sometimes you have to rely on some luck,” said Lundqvist. He certainly had help from both tonight. D Anton Stralman was able to deflect the puck off the goal line and keep the Kings off the board in the first period–“Got a little lucky,” he said–and C Derek Stepan shoveled the puck out of an ice pile with his glove to prevent a tie game in the third. But in the end, the Broadway hat and First Star of the Game honors went to Lundqvist for a performance in net that D Dan Girardi described as “king-worthy.”
“He led by example tonight,” said Stepan. “We’re gonna need Henrik to be tall again.”
“He had to make some huge saves in the second and the third. And we got a few bounces. You need those. Maybe the luck is changing a bit,” Vigneault said.
So now the momentum’s with the Rangers, and they return to L.A. in hopes of extending the series and keeping the 2013-14 NHL season alive for another few days. With the postseason looming in the very near future, the Rangers aren’t ready to go home yet, especially empty-handed. They’ll try to become only the second team in playoff history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, something that hasn’t been done since the Toronto Maple Leafs came back to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in 1942. The Kings still have a 3-1 series lead as well as home-ice advantage for Game 5, but with a victory finally under their belt and some newly regained confidence, the Rangers are ready for the challenge. “It isn’t impossible,” said Lundqvist. “We’ve come back from 3-1.”
The last 4-game Stanley Cup Final sweep was in 1998, and the records will stay that way for at least another season. For now, Rangerstown can let out a collective sigh of relief and celebrate another battle won.
Game 5 will be back in L.A. on Friday with a 5pm PT (8pm ET) start time.